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De Mistura holds separate talks with Syrian rivals
December 01, 2017
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THE HAGUE: Representatives of Syria’s warring sides sat just metres apart in separate rooms at UN peace talks on Thursday, but mediator Staffan de Mistura stopped short of bringing them together in what diplomats had hoped might be a minor breakthrough.

Although the two delegations were in the UN building concurrently, de Mistura kept them apart, dashing between their respective meeting rooms on either side of a corridor.

“We are having what we would call close proximity parallel meetings,” he told the opposition team, after making similar comments to the government delegation, promising to leave them in the hands of his deputy while he went to meet their enemies.

After several hours of talks, chief government negotiator Bashar Al Jaafari and his opposition counterpart Nasr Hariri left separately, without commenting to the media.

One Western diplomat predicted fireworks if the two sides sat down to talk at last, almost seven years into Syria’s war, but he said the “sponsor” countries backing the talks - including Russia and the United States - would then force them back to the table, and the pressure would gradually be released.

A European diplomat expected the opposition to be “pragmatic and flexible” but there was little chance of a big breakthrough.

“I think we need baby steps, and we’ve made such little progress in the years gone by, largely because of the regime’s reluctance to engage in this, so to make some small steps now and develop some momentum would be very helpful indeed.”

At a meeting before the talks began, opposition delegates stuck by their demand that Assad be excluded from any transitional government under a future peace deal. Separately, member states of the international chemical weapons watchdog have appointed a Spanish diplomat as the organisation’s new leader. He takes office next year.

Fernando Arias was officially appointed on Thursday to a four-year term as the next Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In a speech following the decision, Arias said, “I am fully committed to the success of this organization in overcoming the challenges ahead.”

Arias is currently Spain’s ambassador to the Netherlands and his country’s Permanent Representative to the OPCW.


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